Don't Give Me Homework
by Ethan Glover, Fri, Oct 11, 2013 - (Edited) Sat, Oct 12, 2013
I have recently discovered my second pet peeve thanks to some comments on a few past articles. In my three part Anarcho-Communism Criticism, I wrote about and analyzed the answers I received to 15 questions I proposed to anarcho-communists. In response to this analysis of the answers, I got from 15 questions; I received a few complaints about having not read communist authors such as Proudhon. While it should have been clear that that was far from the point, this does seem like a legitimate complaint on the outside. Telling someone they can’t criticize something they are not an expert on something is similar to saying, “Don’t knock it ‘till you try it.” To which I say, what about gay sex? …No, wait… that’s not… I’m sorry, I have actual arguments against this. I just wanted an excuse to tell a stupid joke. Moving on! I understand the positions of the people who have brought this up and I appreciate their side. I am willing to read old texts, but I am waiting for a little convincing. I’ve issued a challenge to anarcho-communists as a way to get me to read a book of their choice. I eagerly await articles from a few who have promised me standalone responses that I may publish here on this site. If I were to be moved to drop enough of my current projects and sacrifice a good deal of my time, it has to be something more convincing than, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, read these 300 pages!”
I have come across many people who will insist that I am wrong on something but never offer any argument in return. They may repeat, the exact opposite, what I just finished talking about or just start linking the first things they Google. That includes books and three hour videos. This is not a good way to get somebody who obviously disagrees with you to consider your viewpoints. Nobody is going to take that much time to understand your philosophy. If you’re lucky, they will take the time to understand your arguments. That’s the best one can hope for, and it should be enough. As an example, if I were a Justin Bieber fan and I told you to watch his documentary, would you do it? Unless you are truly 100% lifeless, probably not. Especially if I don’t offer any reason to do so. Instead, I must convince you. I might say that despite appearances Justin Bieber is actually a male and a very dedicated, hard working prodigy with a very interesting life story. A very inspiring one too. Upon hearing this, you’re probably still holding out, so I might give you a summary of what to expect. I’ve never actually seen the little creeps movie, but if I had, I’d be able to clue you in to some of the amazing things he’s done and maybe leave in a few spoilers. If I make it interesting, and speak to you on a level you can understand, you’re probably more likely to give it a watch, even grudgingly.
Which brings me to my next point. If the person you are talking to already disagrees with your position, it is probably in your best interest to adapt to the situation. These things are much easier to do in the physical world and difficult on the internet. (This is why I recommend finding a real barbershop and discussing things there when you can.) However, it’s not impossible to get a read of where the person you are talking to is coming from when online. If you take a second to find out what their beliefs are, what their issues are and what they’d like to know, you’ll make your life a lot easier. From these simple lines of information, you can adapt to this person in a way that books and long videos simply can not do. Personalizing the conversation rather than pawning people off on links makes you more convincing and more credible. It allows you to develop your own arguments, and it allows you to learn about your own beliefs and others beliefs. If you refuse to answer the simple questions proposed by somebody else or to explain why you disagree the conversation quickly becomes short, wasteful and unmemorable. The chances of somebody reading that book when they don’t even remember what you said? Zero. I get that books and videos from experts act as the ultimate form of knowledge for any subject. However, 300 pages or 3 hours is not an introduction, it is no way to develop an interest in something. A philosophy must be broken down into a digestible form in order for people to develop enough interest to spend some time with it. If you can’t explain your own beliefs in your own words, it will not go well for you. Some perceptions that may come from that are people thinking you’re stupid, the dismissal of anything you say from there on out and the assumption that you are arrogant and close minded. In short, people are less likely to listen to you about anything when they know they won’t get anything of value from you. No matter what your position is on anything, if you want to share it, you must recognize that you are ultimately an individual and when talking to others you hold the key to your beliefs. Nobody can tell others what you think except for you. You are the foundation of your philosophy and what you think. You are the introduction and the reason people are either attracted to or repulsed by your ideas. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about something that is bigger than yourself, if you decide to speak out, you become a spokesman. Anything you say creates a bias, it is representative of the entire idea. This is a fact that can not be ignored.
That being said, it is probably best if you prepare yourself before acting as a spokesman. It is OK to tell people what you are currently learning and to discuss the ideas, but it is also OK to admit you are a beginner, that you don’t know everything and haven’t had much practice arguing for or against it. Books like “Born To Run” and “4-Hour Body” introduced me to the idea of considering the lesser known and looking at all facts and stories. Shortly after reading these books I was introduced to Alex Jones. I have since abandoned his fear mongering/exaggerating style, but after I developed a basic understanding of what he believed in, I tried to start arguing for those things with others. What I found was an easy way to embarrass myself and to come off as an idiot conspiracy theorist. The things I was saying weren’t wrong, it’s just I wasn’t prepared to state them as facts. I needed to learn more and develop my arguments. I would often find myself telling people to go home and Google things, as expected, not one person ever did. In fact, they probably forgot all about the whole conversation the second it ended. This is where the often avoided taboo subject of “infighting” comes in handy. If you are a beginner in a particular philosophy and haven’t quite smoothed out the rough edges of your own knowledge base, it is often helpful to go to others who have been doing it for awhile. Now, finding actual experts and getting a good conversation with them can be difficult. At this stage, it is of course good to be reading what you can, but in order to refine the knowledge you've found into you own terms, it helps to seek other humans who can refine their own arguments to your tastes. (Ah, we’ve come full circle!) Instead of just asking simple questions and taking everything at face value, pressure the people you talk to. Take them to their limits and see if their philosophy holds up. This concept of infighting (respectfully) helps to sharpen your talons and theirs. It is a good way to hash out the difficult subjects and establish something that works. Never be afraid of infighting and never complain about it. If there is sand throwing and hair pulling, avoid that, but not the good ol’ fashioned founding fathers style of getting passionate, loud and assertive. Jump into those like it’s recreational boxing, learn to take a hit, and keep going. Through all of this, you should be able to develop some sort of consistency. Some kind of underlying principles. For example, anarcho-capitalism has defined it’s core values into one easily defined term. The non-aggression principle. With a set of core values, something that must be true all the time, something that society or ideas must be developed around, you can challenge yourself and push those values to the limits. Through this, you can easily work out the issues that bother you and develop a sense of identity within your respected philosophy or ideas. Just as a note, I am not only talking about societal/political philosophy here. Applied to science, a core principle is the scientific method. A computer programmer might always consider a smooth user experience over program adaptability to future programs and other developers. At the core, however, there must be a foundation that keeps you anchored, something that gives you a reason to be who you are. Without it, you’re probably highly dependent on unconscious decisions made by past trauma, unknown biases and irrational thought processes. Once you set your values and challenge yourself enough to become comfortable, that is when you can challenge others. When you can challenge others, that means you can talk to people instead of excessively using lmgtfy.com like a teenager.
Of course, just because you can defend your philosophy confidently, it doesn’t mean you’re good at it. I’m no expert at persuasive speaking, and I don’t claim to be. This article is essentially about not assigning people homework and creating conversation rather than hyperlinks. That being said, it is good to show a little respect to anybody you are talking to. Part of having a proper discussion starts with developing a common language. Many philosophies redefine specific words, claim originality or “take them back”. There is no possible way to have a clear discussion when two people are using the same term in totally different and contradicting ways. I understand that some people have reasons for defining certain words the way they do. Sometimes, unique definitions are the only things holding entire philosophies up. However, people must recognize that there is such a thing as normal. I don’t like to call the government anything other than criminal or mafia. I do it anyways because refusing to do so can mean confusion, frustration and anger for others. It doesn’t help me or anyone. This is exactly why I have my “Commonly Confused Words List”. [Discontinued] It provides a central point that people can reference in order to understand a common language. They are not my definitions, in fact, the page has helped me change my own opinion on a few things. It is important to recognize when you’ve been using a term wrongly, refusing to accept that and instead claiming, “My definition is unique.”, is like raping someone and saying, “It’s cool, in my world it’s totally OK.” Insisting on the bad use of the English language can only lead to a negative reputation about your ideas and personal image. Allowing for an easy conversation can only help.
There are many ways to help your ideas, but I'll quickly go over a few more that I believe are essential. First, there is the recognition of other peoples concerns and never denying them their feelings. Straight out of the Interpersonal textbooks denying someone their feelings is a one way ticket to making yourself look both arrogant and ignorant. If someone asks you about how you would deal with an extreme situation, don’t just say it’s an impossibility and dismiss the question. Explain, ask questions about how they would handle the situation, come up with something of value. Every question is worth some sort of answer, throwing them off to the side will lose you respect. That being said, if you’re proven wrong through a tough series of questions or some good evidence, take the punch. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Recognize what the other person has given you and either try to expand the conversation in a way to give your point a more positive outlook on a general basis or move on. It is OK to be wrong once and right twice. If you are willing to admit this, you will gain respect for yourself and your ideas. Remember, you are the entry point and ambassador to your philosophy. When talking about it, that is a position that should be taken seriously. If you don’t care, you don’t care about the philosophy and listening to you would probably be a waste of time. Accepting when you’re wrong and accepting when you can’t answer a question will either strengthen your arguments or lead you to something better. It can only be beneficial for you. Lastly, you must always consider real world application. Many people are easily swayed by arguments that are all about showing how people can benefit from a particular system. (ie. Welfare votes for democrats) However, this never lasts long, when people embrace your philosophy and begin to study it, they’re likely to be disappointed at the fact that they don’t actually receive a free moon upon acceptance. Instead of debating wuxia and showing people "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as a self-defense documentary, it is probably better to be realistic and to apply your theories to real world examples and situations. If you can’t do this, if the examples don’t make sense… maybe its time to consider some of the finer points above and start looking into other philosophies.
Summing this all up, this article is not about how to persuade others, nor is it a path to accepting particular philosophies. It is an explanation of why you should always choose conversation over references. If you don’t feel like going over a subject, just ignore the questions at hand. If you can't do that, simply state that you don’t feel like going over such things. If somebody directly asks you where they can go to learn about something, go ahead and tell them, go where you are called, but don’t overstep that boundary. A gentleman scholar (or lady scholar) doesn’t go out of his way to prove what he knows or to show off the books he has read. He remains humble and respects the wishes, curiosity and feelings of others. He is not lazy and is always willing to simplify things to those who don’t understand, even when it is a little uncomfortable or tiring. The next time someone asks you a few questions about your ideas or the way you think, don’t pawn them off, give them an opportunity to develop an interest. Help them kickstart the thinking process and act as the gateway drug into enlightenment. Nobody chooses crack the first time.